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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   331
nel, bareheaded, looking very pleased and excited, and
opened his mouth to say something, but the colonel inter-
rupted him in a dry, stern voice:
"Why are you uncovered? What do you think you are,
a schoolboy during recess?"
"Comrade Colonel, permit me to report," blurted out
the excited lieutenant, standing to attention and barely
able to catch his breath.
"Our neighbour, the Commander of the 'Yaks', wants
you on the telephone."
"Our heighbour! What does he want?..."
The colonel briskly made for the dugout.
"It's about you..." the officer on duty began to tell
Alexei, but from down below came the colonel's voice:
"Send Meresyev to me!"
When Meresyev stood stiffly at attention before him,
his hands at his sides, the colonel put his palm over the
telephone receiver and growled at him angrily:
"Why did you misinform me? Our neighbour wanted to
know who flew our 'No. IT. I answered: 'Meresyev,
Senior Lieutenant.' Then he asked: 'How many did you
put down to his score today?' I answered: Two.' He says:
'Add one more to his credit. He knocked a "Fokke-
Wolf" off my tail today. I myself saw it go down.' Well!
Why are you silent?" The colonel frowned at Alexei and
it was hard to say whether he was joking or in earnest.
"Is it true? Here you are, speak to him yourself,... Hello!
Are you there? Senior Lieutenant Meresyev on the phone.
I'm handing him the receiver."
An unknown, hoarse bass voice came over the wire:
"Thanks, Senior Lieutenant. You made a splendid
showing. I appreciate it. You saved me. Yes. I followed
it right to the ground and saw it crash-----Do you drink?
Come over to my C.P., I owe you a litre. Well, thanks
again. We'll shake when we meet. Carry on."
Meresyev put the receiver down. He was so tired after
what he had gone through that he could hardly stand.
His one thought was to get to "Molestown" as quickly as
possible, to get on his dugout, throw off his artificial feet
and stretch out on the bunk. Stepping about awkwardly at
the telephone for a moment, he slowly made for the door.